It has become a bit of a ritual for me. At least once a year, I like going to film festivals and gorging on art until it leaves you feeling slightly sick and headachy and I don't want to hear 'cinema' again for the next three months. It Delhi, it was Osian/Cinefan, and sometimes, smaller documentary film festivals in the middle of the year. In Bombay, it was MAMI, which made us wait so long this time around that I was actually considering going off to Delhi instead, just to get my annual fix.
However, this time, MAMI left me disappointed. Perhaps, it was because of the huge number of films, and my own awkward instinct, which seemed to be guiding me into mediocre screenings. Though I cannot fathom why there should be so many mediocre films in just one festival. Perhaps, I just missed the good ones. After the first three days, I began to rely on other people's recommendations, but even so, the overall sense I have was one of being underwhelmed.
It did not help that one had to dig deep into one's purse each time one wanted a sip of something warm. Forty rupees for one thimble-sized cup of horrid, oversweet coffee from one of those push-button machines?! That's just plain chori and seenazori.
People have already complained (on blogs, in newspapers) about the technical stuff - power cuts, format issues, terrible sound control, and so on. So I won't go over that in too much detail. But I do want to replay this: during one of the screenings, things started to go horribly wrong. The screen split up and the right side went completely dark. Then the screen split up again, and the bottom half of the frame stood hovering on top of the top half, with a noisy black line in the middle.
Behind me, there was a bunch of people whispering. From their conversation, I guaged that these were government employees. One of the ladies said, "You know, if this had happened at one of our events (meaning: a government-organised festival), they would have been up in arms. There would be such an uproar about the imcompetance of the state..."
She was right. There would have been all sorts of noises about how you cannot expect anything better from the public sector, and how the state should just let the experts/professionals handle this stuff, and how the private work ethic is better than the public one.
Which got me thinking. Why do we react with so much bitterness and anger when something goes wrong at a state-organised event at say, Siri Fort, or the Nehru Centre? And why do we just mumble about technical glitches, and then shut up, when the same thing goes wrong at a privately-owned multiplex? I am not talking about the difference in facilities alone. I am talking about an attitude. People who work with the government also work very hard to make such festivals happen. They help to fund stuff, they run stuff, they get the experts in to do their stuff. But I never hear anyone lauding them for their commitment to art or cinema. Why is that? And when non-government agencies are brought in to take over or partner such events, why is the criticism so muted?
At any rate, the thing is, I am still feeling hungry. The festival didn't have the overdose strength this time. I don't feel engorged with cinema to bursting point.
That said, this time, the documentaries were quite good. It was such a pity that almost all the documentaries were relegated to morning slots, which meant a slim audience, and I couldn't make it to most of them because of a lengthy commute. But I did catch 'Meet Me at the Mango Tree' and 'Made in Pakistan'. Both are good, engaging documentaries that accomplish what good films should - gently zoom in on a few human beings and their lives, and then allow us to see. Not just look, but see.
'Here', a Japanese film, was my usual odd pick. The sort you see only at film festivals and wonder what it was all about. The sort you cannot dislike, cannot accuse of anything, but cannot entirely like either. Experimental to the point of not being able to wow you, and yet, the sort of film you are not likely to forget for years.
Amongst the feature films, I liked a few including 'In the Loop', 'Fish Tank', 'Happy Go Lucky', 'Eden is West', and a Konkani film that roughly translates to 'Man Across the Bridge', made by a young Goan filmmaker called Lakshmikant Shetgaonkar. If you get a chance, watch.